KABUL - Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday vowed his new Cabinet would be held to account, dismissing critics who say entrenched corruption will continue. He also promised a bigger role in government for women in the generally patriarchal society.
Karzai has been under strong international pressure to clean up corruption in his government. Anger over graft has helped fuel the Taliban insurgency and dismayed the United States and other countries he counts on for troops and aid.
But when his nominees for the Cabinet were presented Saturday, many legislators complained that he was keeping ministers who had performed badly and that he was appointing new faces who may be in the pocket of warlords and regional power brokers.
"Confidently, I say if there is any question about corruption, they will be accountable and I will be accountable as well to the Afghan nation," he said of the Cabinet, about half of them incumbents. Karzai was speaking at a news conference with Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, whose country contributes about 500 troops to the international forces in Afghanistan.
Leterme reaffirmed Belgium's military and aid commitments.
Some legislators have also criticized the Cabinet nominations because there was only one woman - the minister of women's affairs. Karzai yesterday said he plans to form a ministry for literacy that would be headed by a woman, and said he also plans to appoint women to a number of deputy-minister positions.
Karzai, meanwhile, defended the mayor of Kabul, who this month was sentenced to four years in prison for corruption. Karzai previously said the mayor was a scapegoat and yesterday he said he felt responsibility to defend someone who is "clean and honest."
The attorney general's office recently confirmed that it was investigating a few current ministers and a dozen former ministers for corruption. Members of parliament recently pushed Deputy Attorney General Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar to disclose the names of ministers under investigation.
Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta yesterday sharply criticized Faqiryar for allegedly saying that his ministry was being investigated in connection with the transfer of $500,000 to a foreign travel agency that was supposed to take Afghans to the 2007 pilgrimage to Mecca but didn't.
In a letter to Karzai, Spanta said his ministry was involved only in seeking the return of the funds. Moreover, he wrote that his ministry also was working to find $10 million that remains unaccounted for following the 2008 pilgrimage.